Coming Out as a Porn Addict

The Internet caused my addiction, but it also helped me find a cure.
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Jinx!/Flickr

About a year ago, I was regularly seeing a therapist. During one session, I mentioned the niche porn I had watched and how I was unsure whether or not I wanted to embrace some of the "kinkier" fantasies, like rape and incest, through role-play in my real sex life. It was the only time I could remember her telling me that certain fantasies--not acted out in real life, just imagined--could be "wrong" or considered a "sickness." In retrospect, understanding my condition as an illness might actually have been empowering if explained differently, but at the time, it shut me right up. I never brought it up to her again.

I'm not alone in feeling silenced. Every day it prevents a lot of people from recovering. From porn.

Earlier this month in The Atlantic I described how I came to identify with the porn addiction movement, if a bit unsure of where exactly I fall under that umbrella. The label made me feel comfortable reaching out to affinity groups and ultimately seeking the treatment I now felt I needed.

More immediately, it begot hours of trying to figure out: How many other people watch porn like I did? While there's no survey for porn addiction, there is a life path emerging for some percentage of the population shaded by Internet porn.

The average age a U.S. child is first exposed to porn is 11 according to Family Safe Media, though others claim it's closer to 14. According to Norton Family, of 3.5 million web searches in 2009 by kids, the sixth most commonly searched term was "porn." For children younger than eight, it was the fourth most commonly searched term.

Clearly, many like me started watching porn when they were barely pubescent, and researchers assert that there's a correlation between early porn use and sexual compulsion problems down the road.

According to a 2009 survey of 30,000 college students, over 10 percent of U.S male students are estimated to be heavy porn users (five to 20 hours per week), and 62 percent of college guys watch some Internet porn each week. In a 2007 study by researchers at Brigham Young University, 21 percent of all college students reported watching porn "every day or almost every day.

As adults, the problems may persist. At the 2003 American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers meeting, two-thirds of lawyers reported that compulsive Internet use played a significant role in divorces over that year, and 56 percent of those divorce cases included a partner who had an obsessive interest in pornographic websites. Eight years earlier, pornography had played almost no role in divorce.

And as a country, we watch a lot of porn -- 40 million people visit a porn site at least once a month (that's about one in eight Americans). And as an Internet populace, 25 percent of our search engine requests and an astounding 35 percent of our downloads are for porn.

While some studies that have surveyed the population at large conclude that Internet porn's not much of a problem, it's important to note that the percentage of Internet porn "addicts" is much higher in at-risk populations: young, Internet-connected men. (75 to 85 percent of Internet porn users are men).

25 percent of our search engine requests and an astounding 35 percent of our downloads are for porn.

And while Internet porn addiction hasn't been specifically surveyed, one study reports that Internet addiction more broadly is as high as 23 percent in some college-aged male populations, and pornography is considered to be the most addictive online stimulus.

I only watched a few hours of porn a week and haven't watched porn in years, but it continues to negatively affect my life -- so for some, the threshold isn't that high before Internet porn causes problems. Already it seems that there could be at least ten to twenty percent of college-aged guys suffering from Internet-porn related issues, and with more children watching at younger ages as high-speed Internet becomes more accessible, how big will this community be by the time my generation's kids are college-aged?

Fortunately, this community is already organizing itself.

Finding the Internet porn addiction community
Forums to discuss porn use and compulsive masturbation are cropping up around the web. These include Reddit's NoFap (where members support one other's abstinence from "fapping," or masturbating), Your Brain Rebalanced (where users publish porn-quitting journals), MedLine, and a slew of bodybuilding sites (mostly related to Erectile Dysfunction specifically), as well as some forums centered around a particularly ideology for quitting porn like Feed The Right Wolf.

More so than the startling statistics, the rapid growth of these digital communities felt to me like a concrete declaration that a lot of people are, at least self-reportedly, afflicted by porn: NoFap broke 60,000 subscribers last month.

Some of these groups are gathering interesting information about "porn addicts" and crowdsourcing solutions -- using the Internet collectively to fight what it did to each user alone. For example, Reddit's "fapstronaut" community conducted a self-survey in April 2012 with over 1,500 respondents, which details their demographics, masturbation habits, and self-reported effects of masturbation abstinence.

Below is a graph from the survey describing mutable sexual tastes, a feature that some researchers claim is characteristic of Internet porn addiction:

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Of course, folks are organizing in large part to figure out what has improved the lives of those who suffer from this little-recognized ailment. Towards this end, Gary Wilson and Marnia Robinson, the founders of Your Brain on Porn, have stepped in to play the roles of informer and curator.

Presented by

Isaac Abel is the pen name of a journalist, based in Brooklyn, who writes about sexuality and gender. His tumblr is here.

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